Zaragoza is roughly 300kms from Madrid, Valencia, Bilbao and Barcelona. It’s mid-way on the AVE high speed train Barcelona-Madrid route, so the city is a neutral half-way point for meetings between Madrid and Barcelona business people.
Today, the AVE train will be how Real Zaragoza arrives into Barcelona to play at Camp Nou.
The game starts tonight – Saturday 17th – at 8pm CET. Click here to convert the match time to your timezone: FC Barcelona vs. Real Zaragoza
Zaragoza is one of those teams that has Barça fans either outright hating their guts or bearing a semblance of grudging admiration towards them. The latter comes from fans who recognise that the two teams have some shared history throughout the years – mostly through common players/coaches and certainly because Real Zaragoza shows no love towards Real Madrid. If only they were a stronger team that could be more competitive when up against Madrid’s style of play.
Some Common Threads
Perhaps the most famous of coaches shared between Barcelona and Zaragoza is the late César Rodríguez Álvarez – often referred to as just “César”.
You know the man – until last season he held the 57 year old FCB record for the highest goal-scorer with a total of 232. Messi took that record from him on March 20th 2012, in this match vs. Granada:
César played for 16 years at Barcelona from 1939-1955; managed Zaragoza between 1960-1963; managed Barça for one season 1963-1964, and then returned to Zaragoza for the 1968-1969 season.
Víctor Muñoz Manrique was another player/coach with the 2 clubs in common. He was a Zaragoza youth and played for the club between 1976-1981 before being snapped up by Barcelona where he played for 7 seasons between 1981-1988.
He coached Zaragoza between 2004-2006 and, interestingly, when Joaquín Caparrós quit Neuchâtel Xamax in September 2011 and joined Mallorca, Muñoz took over at the Belgium club until the end of the season.
Frank Rijkaard played for Real Zaragoza (1987-1988) while on loan from Portuguese club Sporting, and later coached Barcelona between 2003 and 2008.
Zaragoza’s Current Coach
Los Maños coach today is Manolo Jiménez. A longtime player/coach at Sevilla, Manolo was signed as Zaragoza’s manager on 31st December 2011 to replace Mexican Javier Aguirre who had been fired for his dismal results.
At Sevilla, one of Manolo’s greatest claims was that he had beaten Barcelona – a feat that he has been drumming into his Zaragoza players in his pep talks over the past week. He expects nothing less than to come away with 3 points from Camp Nou.
Zaragoza’s close proximity to Barcelona has seen some player interchanges over the clubs’ histories.
Peruvian Juan Seminario played for Zaragoza in one of the club’s more successful periods between 1961-1963. Nicknamed “El Loco”, Seminario is the only Zaragoza player to have won the Pichichi Award (1962) in the club’s 80 year history. Seminario would later play for Barcelona for 3 seasons over 1964-1967.
Mohammed Ali Amar (aka Nayim) was born in Ceuta, joined La Masia (1987-1985) and played in the Barça B team between 1985-1987. He was promoted to the First Team for 1987-1988 under Terry Venables, but had few chances to impress (appearing just 7 times) before he left for Tottenham at the end of the season where he remained for 5 years. In 1993, he returned to Spain to play for Zaragoza for 4 seasons. In the 1995 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup Final against Arsenal, the game went into extra time. In the dying seconds, Nayim lobbed a 45 metre shot past the Gunners’ GK David Seaman to give the Aragonese team the 2-1 victory.
Edmílson played 71 games for Barcelona between 2005-2008, (playing under Frank Rijkaard), before he left the club at age 32. After a split season at Villarreal and Palmeiras, the Brazilian joined Zaragoza for the 2010-2011 season.
Sergio García came through the La Masia ranks (1995-2002) before playing for Barça B (2002-2004). He was promoted for 2 seasons (2003-2005) to the First Team but spent the 2nd season out on loan to Levante before joining Zaragoza between 2005-2008. A couple of seasons at Real Betis followed before he returned to Catalunya in 2010 where he is now playing for RCD Espanyol.
Argentine Gabi Milito played for Zaragoza after Real Madrid rejected him following tests which showed that he hadn’t fully recovered from a knee injury. An alternative view is that Madrid’s refusal to sign Gabi was a political move against Jorge Valdano who wanted his fellow countryman at the club. Gabi became a key player for Zaragoza and was joined there by his brother Diego. After 4 seasons between 2003-2007, Milito left to join Barcelona where he would play/not play between 2007-2011. (Diego left Zaragoza in 2008 for a season at Genoa before joining Inter Milan.)
Current Barça Squad
Two players in the current Barça squad spent time at Zaragoza.
After 4 seasons with Sporting Gijón, David Villa played 2 seasons at Zaragoza (2003-2005). In 2004, Zaragoza played in the final of the Copa Del Rey against Real Madrid. Villa scored the 2nd goal in what was to be a 3-2 victory for the Aragonese team.
Soon after this, Villa received his first International call-up for Spain. The immensely proud Zaragoza fans invented the chant “illa illa illa, Villa maravilla” in homage to him. Villa was hugely successful at Zaragoza, but the cash-strapped team was forced to make a hard decision to sell the player who was now a hot-ticket item. Valencia coughed up €12 million, and Villa played there for 5 seasons before joining Barcelona in 2010 in what was to be Joan Laporta’s last signing during his presidential term.
Gerard Piqué also played at Zaragoza. After attending La Masia (1997-2004), Piqué signed to Man U at a very young age where he spent 4 seasons until 2008. One of those seasons (2006-2007) was spent on loan to Zaragoza where he played beside Gabi Milito. Piqué returned to Man U for a season before coming home to Barcelona in 2008.
Current Zaragoza Squad
The team visiting Camp Nou today has a few players with Barcelona history.
Edu Oriol played for Barcelona B for 2 seasons (2009-2011) appearing 60 times and scoring 9 goals. He departed for Zaragoza because he wanted to play in the First League and there was no chance for Barça B to be promoted to Primera, nor any chance for him to make it into the Barça First Team.
Víctor Rodríguez attended La Masia at the same time as Jordi Alba. Both suffered the same fate when the two were released because they were deemed to be too small to be successful. Víctor is drawing on Jordi’s comeback to Camp Nou as his inspiration to perform well in the old stomping grounds tonight.
Paco Montañés attended La Masia (1998-2004) before playing for Barça C and B teams over the next 2 seasons (2004-2006). In 2006, he appeared once in the First Team before moving to lower leagues to play for Villarreal B, Ontinyent and Alcorcón. Disillusioned with his career, he contemplated giving football away and following in his fireman father’s footsteps, but all that was forgotten when he was signed to Zaragoza this season.
Although not named in the team to visit Camp Nou tonight, Abraham Minero played 1 season for Barca B (2010-2011) where he appeared 24 times, before returning to Zaragoza where he has appeared 24 times over the past 2 seasons.
Who’s Arriving from Zaragoza today?
Zaragoza is currently on a high after winning 3 of their last 4 starts. Their only stumble was a 4-0 loss to Madrid at the Bernabéu a couple of weeks ago. Last weekend, at home in La Romareda, they beat Deportivo 5-3.
Manolo has named the following players to travel: Roberto, Leo Franco, Movilla, Paredes, Álvaro, Goni, Aranda, Edu Oriol, Hélder Postiga, Apoño, Montañés, Romaric, Stefan, Wílchez, Zuculini, Pintér, Víctor and Héctor (B team player #27).
Interestingly, this only includes 3 specialised backs in Paredes, Álvaro, Goni with B teamer Héctor making the 4th defender. The selection is loaded with mid-fielders with Aranda and Postiga as the recognised strikers.
The dangerman is going to be Portuguese International Hélder Postiga who has already scored 5 goals this season and is particularly skilled at heading the ball in from close range. This will cause some headaches for VV.
Mid-fielder Apoño will also be one to mark. After falling out with Pellegrino at Málaga due to a bad reaction after being subbed off, Apoño was told to look for another club. He was loaned to Zaragoza in January 2012, and signed to the club for this season. Antonio has scored 3 goals in his 10 appearances.
Romaric will be another to watch – if he plays. The big Ivory Coaster left Sevilla (after being loaned out to Espanyol last season) and is now at Zaragoza. He hasn’t appeared much during the season, but if Manolo can play him tonight, he will. His size and muscle will be required in mid-field.
What about Barcelona?
It rained again last night, and more rain is forecast just before kick-off – damnit. The ground has only just dried out after the last heavy rains, so it will be soggy, once more, underfoot.
Great news was announced yesterday – our fearless Captain Carles was given the medical green light to play. I hope that he doesn’t start, or if he does, that he doesn’t play the whole game. If the team is 2-0 up and there’s a Barca free-kick or corner, Puyol should be dragged to the sideline and held there in hand and leg cuffs until the play has been completed.
Deep sigh – just as he was getting minutes and becoming more asynchronous with his team-mates, Alexis sprained his ankle 20 minutes into the Chile-Serbia friendly played mid-week in Switzerland, and will be out for at least 4 weeks. He joins Adriano, Thiago, Cuenca, Muniesa and Abidal in the sick-bay.
Busquets will also be sitting this one out as he received his 5th Yellow for the season in last week’s game against Mallorca. The lad’s on a roll – first the 2 games against Celtic and now Zaragoza.
Apparently Zaragoza has never won against a team with David Villa playing in it, so he would be an automatic start for me. What? Me – superstitious? Nooo – just don’t believe in tempting fate, that’s all. ;.) Villa is also looking to score his 300th professional goal.
Tito will put out a strong line-up. I expect to see:
Alves Piqué Masch Alba
Xavi Song Iniesta
Pedro Messi Villa
However, he’ll also be mindful of the tough Champions League match to be played in Moscow against Spartak on Tuesday. Perhaps he’ll rest Ini and play Cesc, or rest Masch and play Bartra – Jim will like the latter.
VV will be looking for a goal celebration for Kai – at the other end, Victor, not behind you.